Sign Up

Get the latest ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.

All , , Coverage

All Education Coverage

As students and teachers prepare for fall, these timely books explore the ways in which education both fails and finds us. As each memoir here shows, we can shape the future of our world simply by rethinking the way we learn.

Learning by Heart

Tony Wagner, senior research fellow at the Learning Policy Institute and a longtime education specialist, examines the ways in which the structures of American education fail to respect the individuality of each student in his memoir, Learning by Heart: An Unconventional Education. After being kicked out of several boarding schools and failing out of college twice, Wagner began to pursue learning not for the sake of earning an “education” but rather for the love of knowledge. This passion sent him on a journey to discover how he could provide that same opportunity to students educated in more classical environments. Traveling far from his New England home to study in Mexico, Wagner eventually returned to America’s most hallowed and traditional halls at Harvard University to challenge widely accepted paradigms of learning.

These books represent the best of what education could offer, if we would only believe in the power of each person’s individual story.

Readers who are frustrated by conventional schooling will recognize Wagner’s fascinating narrative as their own. However, it’s worth noting that Wagner’s journey ends positively thanks in part to his proximity to certain societal privileges. Though he tries to acknowledge this privilege at points throughout the memoir, it’s not difficult for the reader to imagine how this story might differ if it were told from the perspective of someone with access to fewer resources and opportunities.

Why Did I Get a B?

In contrast, Why Did I Get a B? And Other Mysteries We’re Discussing in the Faculty Lounge addresses issues of disparity in education and chronicles author Shannon Reed’s growth from a traditionally successful middle-­class student to an actively passionate teacher with an expansive background in preschool, middle school, high school and college classrooms. Having come from a family of educators, Reed describes her movement toward teaching as an inevitable call. “After nineteen years as a teacher, I can no longer shrug helplessly, pretending I don’t know how I ended up in this career,” she writes. “If you are what you do, then it is what I am.” Her writing honors her struggles while also making fun of her own misconceptions about teaching.

Divided into comical essays and sincere meditations, Why Did I Get a B? provides an accurate depiction of how many teachers feel about their careers. Educators will appreciate the particular brand of nerdy sarcasm that pervades Reed’s book—and they may even recognize it as one of the quirks teachers must develop to survive in the world of education. However, anyone not in that world will enjoy the book, too, as an honest look into how teachers’ brains work to solve problems and do what’s best for their kids, while also just trying to stay alive.

Kid Quixotes

This sentiment also undergirds Kid Quixotes: A Group of Students, Their Teacher, and the One-Room School Where Everything Is Possible, which details author Stephen Haff’s personal experience with bipolar depression alongside his efforts to construct a creative and individualized learning environment for kids in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood. Kid Quixotes weaves together the narrative of Haff’s teaching career and the stories of his students, who are largely members of the Latinx immigrant community. These kids, who seek solace in Haff’s Still Waters in a Storm after-school program, translate Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote from its original Spanish into English and then into their own interpretative play over the course of five years. This process of reading, writing and translating allows Haff to uncover the complexities of each child’s life story, and he encourages them to bring those personal experiences to life through the play.

Each of Haff’s students speaks out from the pages of this book and implores readers to hear their voice. In particular, Haff spotlights the voice of a young girl named Sarah, the “Kid Quixote” of Still Waters, who speaks prophetically both to the other children and to the reader. After she tells her first story at Still Waters, Haff remarks that the other children were “stunned, as if they had just met God.” The reader also feels this moment’s transcendence, which continues throughout the book.

One of the final sequences in Kid Quixotes describes the response of a writer who had been invited to work with the students at Still Waters. After her encounter, she said she viewed these students differently, seeing them as “intellectual equals.” Haff’s work at Still Waters, Reed’s reflections and Wagner’s memoir all ask us to do this same work. By respecting students as equals with something to offer, rather than as receptacles for information, we allow their powerful stories to change our broken world. These books represent the best of what education could offer, if we would only believe in the power of each person’s individual story.

As students and teachers prepare for fall, these timely books explore the ways in which education both fails and finds us. As each memoir here shows, we can shape the future of our world simply by rethinking the way we learn. Learning by Heart Tony Wagner, senior research fellow at the Learning Policy Institute and […]

With plenty of observations on success, love and health, The Algebra of Happiness offers concise, invaluable lessons on how to create a joy-filled life. Author and NYU professor Scott Galloway gives glimpses into his own experiences, like how he was initially rejected from UCLA but later wrote the admissions office, got accepted and then ended up founding nine firms and being named one of the “World’s 50 Best Business School Professors.” But that kind of success isn’t everything: “In the end,” Galloway concludes, “relationships are all that matter.”

For more on living well, you can’t go wrong with The Atlas of Happiness. Expanding on the hygge craze, happiness researcher Helen Russell takes readers on a world tour, presenting “a catalog of cultural customs” on living well. This attractive, intriguing book—chock-full of colorful illustrations and breezy, informative essays—will be enjoyed by all, young or old. 

Those who are college-bound may want to put How to College at the top of their summer reading list. This no-nonsense, comprehensive guide covers everything from term papers to roommates and on-campus health care. Author and professor Andrea Malkin Brenner knows the nitty-gritty, having created American University’s first-year experience course. This book is well-organized and packed with tips, illustrated charts and useful exercises.

The way to a college student’s heart is often through their stomach, and at some point cafeteria food is bound to get tiresome. Katie Sullivan Morford’s Prep is the perfect antidote, filled with plenty of basics and crystal-clear instructions. Recipes include dishes like Spicy Sweet Potato Rounds and Mix-in-the-Pan Applesauce Cake (with frosting!), while other chapters cover topics like “Fix a Killer Plate of Pasta” and “Turn a Pot of Beans Into a Meal.” This is a wonderful crash course in Cooking 101.

Got a graduate in your life? Give the priceless gift of wisdom with one of these four books.

From China to the neighborhood down the street, parents and educators around the world are continually pondering the best environments, teaching methods and curricula for today’s young people. To guide their decisions, we’re highlighting five recent and upcoming books that reflect some of the most interesting approaches to improving the educational experience.

Public, private, charter, online, home, magnet—the list goes on. With so many educational options, how do parents choose the best one for their child? Luckily, Kevin Leman, a psychologist and author of more than 50 books on parenting and relationships, offers Education a la Carte: Choosing the Best Schooling Options for Your Child. This no-nonsense guide discusses the possible benefits of each kind of school environment and focuses on finding the right fit for each child.

Leman will ease parents’ tension as he addresses typical concerns and shows how learning styles, birth order and parenting styles all factor into the decision process. Additional chapters cover topics such as preschool and kindergarten readiness, homework and grades. No matter the subject, Leman encourages parents to keep realistic expectations and to motivate with approval rather than criticism.

LAST LAUGH
Liberal arts majors are often the punchline of jokes. In You Can Do Anything: The Surprising Power of a “Useless” Liberal Arts Education, Pulitzer Prize winner and bestselling author George Anders reveals that liberal arts majors are overtaking jobs once reserved for graduates with computer science and business degrees. He highlights the irony that, as tech fields become increasingly dependent on automation, the need for the human touch has never been more essential.

Anders explains how liberal arts majors offer valuable critical thinking skills and gives examples of individuals whose liberal arts degrees took them down unexpected paths. For instance, Bess Yount, who holds a sociology degree, is on Facebook’s sales and marketing team, and Stewart Butterfield, a philosophy major, now runs Slack Technologies. While the book is geared toward recent grads, even career switchers can benefit from the job strategies and insight into the dozens of major companies actively recruiting liberal arts majors. Above all, Anders shows that success is rarely a straight line.

WEST MEETS EAST
When Chinese-American journalist Lenora Chu and her husband took jobs in Shanghai, they eagerly enrolled their 3-year-old son, Rainey, in Soong Qing Ling, an elite “kindergarten” that would instill academic drive seemingly missing in the U.S. The author discovered that while Rainey outpaced his American counterparts in math and language, he was also subjected to harsh discipline, propaganda and extreme competition. The latter even led to bribery, with Chu finding herself gifting Coach purses in exchange for school opportunities.

Struck by these differences, Chu was curious about the Chinese education system. The result is Little Soldiers: An American Boy, a Chinese School, and the Global Race to Achieve. Mixing personal anecdotes, observations of Chinese classrooms, interviews with parents and students and thought-provoking facts about Chinese education, the author reveals how yingshi jiaoyu—high-stakes testing—has created a culture of stress and conformity. Although Chinese schools have been influenced to some degree by Western ideals, such as creativity and independence, she notes that, ironically, American schools increasingly emphasize test taking. In the end, Chu lets readers consider what skills a 21st-century student needs and offers insight on the future of global education.

TEACHERS, BREATHE EASY
As British educator Katherine Weare reminds readers, schools are busy, pressured environments where teachers and students are often more concerned with the future than enjoying the present moment of learning. Weare and co-author Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk and international peace activist, also recognize that teachers typically focus on others’ needs over their own. Their secular collaboration, Happy Teachers Change the World: A Guide for Cultivating Mindfulness in Education, brings mindfulness to teachers and students.

Essays from Nhat Hanh set a reassuring mood to prepare for mindfulness exercises, while the second part of the book explains ties between these techniques and valuable education traits. Weare also addresses best practices and shows how mindfulness can be integrated in specific curriculum areas. Once comfortable with these practices, teachers can move on to suggestions for cultivating mindfulness across school communities.

FINNISHING SCHOOL
Even after experiencing burnout his first year of teaching, Timothy D. Walker, a contributing writer on education issues for The Atlantic, still espoused that good teachers “don’t do short workdays” but rather “push themselves—to the limit.” That is, until he relocated to his Finnish wife’s home country to teach elementary school. While educators around the world have recognized Finland’s consistent top scores in reading, math and science on international tests, the author was instead struck by how joy was prioritized in Finnish schools.

In Teach Like Finland: 33 Simple Strategies for Joyful Classrooms, Walker offers realistic tips on creating joyful schools, arranged according to five “ingredients” of happiness: well-being, belonging, autonomy, mastery and mindset. From scheduling brain breaks to cultivating a community of adults who share responsibility for a child to discussing grades so students can reflect on their learning, the tips are prefaced with lively anecdotes from the author’s own classroom experiences and often reveal how he overcame American biases to embrace them. While some strategies may need to be adapted to individual schools, they all highlight how we can learn to value happiness more than achievement.

 

This article was originally published in the August 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

We’ve highlighted five recent and upcoming books that reflect some of the most interesting approaches to improving the educational experience.

As the start of a new school year approaches, five new books show the differences made in the lives of students by connected educators, a productive environment and even an agreeable substitute teacher.

GETTING PERSONAL
When Denver teacher Kyle Schwartz gave each of her third graders a sticky note and the prompt, “I wish my teacher knew,” she was floored by the heartfelt responses from children who described their painful home lives, the loneliness they face, the things that bring them joy and pride, and their hopes for the future. Schwartz began tweeting her students’ answers and was surprised when her seemingly simple exercise went viral.

She explains the phenomenon in I Wish My Teacher Knew: How One Question Can Change Everything for Our Kids. Schwartz opens with an overview of the project’s purpose: to create community and a positive learning environment for every child. She argues that teachers can make an impact on children’s lives in many difficult areas, including poverty, grief and loss, trauma and accepting families in all their forms. Detailed Teacher Tools provide suggestions for transforming any classroom or school into a greater community. After reading Schwartz’s book, teachers will be inspired to join the #IWishMyTeacherKnew movement and get to know their students better.

BRIDGING THE GAP
Before receiving funding in 2010 to open a small public middle school in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, one of the poorest neighborhoods in New York City, principal Nadia Lopez envisioned her students crossing the Brooklyn Bridge. Even though they live near this architectural marvel, most had never seen it, let alone walked across it. Crossing the bridge would not only become a rite of passage for these students, it would also come to symbolize the connection between their difficult past and a brighter future.

In The Bridge to Brilliance: How One Principal in a Tough Community Is Inspiring the World, the compassionate yet no-nonsense Lopez describes how she started from scratch to build a school that became a beacon of hope, determination and success. If her story sounds familiar, it’s because her accomplishments drew widespread praise after a student revealed them on the popular Humans of New York blog. In this stirring account, Lopez reveals that listening to her students and seeing them as individuals despite their harsh environment have made all the difference.

COUNTING ON SUCCESS
Successful teaching is the best preventative discipline method. Recognizing that teachers and kids aren’t perfect, however, 1-2-3 Magic in the Classroom: Effective Discipline for Pre-K through Grade 8 offers easy-to-implement strategies as a backup. Authors Thomas W. Phelan, Ph.D., and Sarah Jane Schonour, M.A., based this guide for educators on 1-2-3 Magic, a bestselling discipline guide for parents.

After learning about the “teacher in charge” method that uses counting and non-judgmental consequences, readers are introduced to “start” behaviors (such as doing classwork) and “stop” behaviors (such as yelling). The authors emphasize the importance of avoiding the two biggest discipline mistakes: too much talking and too much emotion. To help with implementation, they present numerous scenarios to think about or role play.

For educators who worry about more serious discipline problems, disciplining students with developmental differences or discipline at different grade levels, the guide includes comprehensive Q&As and more scenarios from the trenches. It might not be true magic, but if used successfully, this technique will feel like it.

FINDING ALTERNATIVES
Manufacturing in the United States is rebounding, and according to Katherine S. Newman and Hella Winston, many fast-growing occupations are considered “middle skill.” Labor force -shortages have already occurred in jobs that require education beyond high school, but not a four-year college degree. Reskilling America offers a convincing argument for bringing back vocational education.

Beginning with a history of vocational education and the transition to “college for all,” which left many students, particularly minority men, without career prospects, the thought-provoking text emphasizes investment in training institutions, both in high schools and community colleges. It looks to Germany as a model for relationships between industry and education that have fostered a robust dual system combining vocational education with apprenticeships. The authors describe the success of this system, Germany’s attempt at creating similar programs in the U.S. and the slow revival of vocational education in U.S. schools. Not just funding—but a renewed respect for middle-skill labor—might be the key to success in this country.

FILLING IN
Award-winning author Nicholson Baker has tackled such daunting subjects as World War II, library preservation, poetry and even erotic stories. He takes on perhaps his most unwieldy topic yet—the state of American education—in Substitute: Going to School with a Thousand Kids. In this hefty volume, to be published September 6, Baker recounts the 28 days he spent in Maine’s public schools in 2014 as “the lowest-ranking participant in American education: a substitute teacher.” With a clean criminal record and “a willingness to tolerate your own ineptitude,” plus a short evening course that would earn him an extra $5 per day, Baker had all he needed to substitute.

Each chapter, representing one day, gives a snapshot into a classroom, from kindergarten to high school special education math. Rather than provide commentary, the author lets the teacher’s sub plans, classroom environment and dialogue with and between students guide each chapter. The result is an often chaotic, exhausting—and entertaining—view of the school day in which he is usually saved by coffee, an eager student and the final bell. Baker emerges with empathetic appreciation for all the students and teachers who bear these ups and downs daily.

 

This article was originally published in the August 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

As the start of a new school year approaches, five new books show the differences made in the lives of students by connected educators, a productive environment and even an agreeable substitute teacher.

Written for anyone who cares about preschool education in this country, The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need from Grownups offers terrific insights into the world of children—the delight of imaginative play, the allure of nature, the power of emotion. I read this book in the company of my own children, ages 5 and 2. Often, I found myself observing them more closely, appreciating their richness of expression more fully and identifying more sympathetically with their frustrations. At the same time, early childhood education expert Erika Christakis is undeniably grumpy when assessing what preschoolers are getting from most grownups these days.

She sneers at the handprint turkey craft many children make at Thanksgiving (a version of which was displayed framed on my own wall as I read the manuscript). She sighs with exasperation at the ineffective design of preschool classes. Overstimulating colors, bins filled with “educational” toys and insipid curriculum are among her many targets. Yet she redeems these critiques by moving beyond them. In chapters after chapter, Christakis poses compelling questions and imaginative solutions. She wonders why, for instance, the slow food movement hasn’t gained more traction in preschools, where children could prepare food together and then clean it up. She describes engaging classroom environments she’s seen in beguiling detail, and recounts evocative conversations she’s had and overheard among small people. Her respect and love for them is undeniable.

Until late last year, Christakis was a lecturer in early childhood education at Yale. She and her husband, Nicholas Christakis, a Yale professor, drew the wrath of some students when they voiced concern over Yale’s limitations on “offensive” Halloween costumes. Christakis quit her teaching post in December, citing a climate at Yale that was “not conducive to . . . civil dialogue and open inquiry.”

The Yale controversy played no role in the book, however, and The Importance of Being Little doesn’t delve into the nuts and bolts of preschool education at the policy level. What Christakis does offer is a compelling vision of what preschool could become, with many examples that provide useful context. Her experiences at Yale—surrounded by bright and curious people, resource-rich schools and extensive libraries—enrich what she offers to the reader: a somewhat academic, more than a little cantankerous and ultimately earnestly hopeful discussion about how to best serve our youngest charges.

Written for anyone who cares about preschool education in this country, The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need from Grownups offers terrific insights into the world of children—the delight of imaginative play, the allure of nature, the power of emotion.

“Together and alone, we need literature as the California valleys need rain,” muses David Denby, author of Great Books (1996) and staff writer for The New Yorker. But, he wondered, in an age of texting and tweeting, are teens still reading complex literary works? And can an appetite for serious reading be developed in high school?

To find out, Denby decided to return to school himself, exploring 10th-grade classrooms and the reading habits of 15-year-olds. Denby opted for a subjective, arbitrary approach, spending the 2011-2012 academic year observing teacher Sean Leon’s class at The Beacon School, an alternative high school in Manhattan; the following year he visited classes in two other public high schools. As Denby glances at a student’s essay draft at the beginning of the year in Leon’s class, he can’t help but think that Leon had “his work cut out for him. They all did, the English teachers of America.”

Denby is an engaging writer and a keen spectator: The teachers and students he observes spring off the page as real people. He also explores the books along with the students themselves. (If you hated The Scarlet Letter in high school, here’s your chance to revisit it.) 

Like many of the teens around him, Denby himself isn’t always on the same page as the teacher who’s asking for total engagement with, say, Dostoevsky at 8:00 in the morning. “I couldn’t believe I was even there. At that moment, I couldn’t handle The Sound of Music.” Yet, he comes to realize, many of the students are juggling not only multiple classes but part-time jobs and challenging home situations.

Denby gives us a dramatic, fascinating look at teachers and students struggling, questioning and growing together. Lit Up is a testament to the power of extraordinary teachers and the willingness of young people to engage—not just with books, but with the serious business of becoming adults. 

 

This article was originally published in the February 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

“Together and alone, we need literature as the California valleys need rain,” muses David Denby, author of Great Books (1996) and staff writer for The New Yorker. But, he wondered, in an age of texting and tweeting, are teens still reading complex literary works? And can an appetite for serious reading be developed in high school?

Sign Up

Stay on top of new releases: Sign up for our enewsletters to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres.

Recent Reviews

Author Interviews

Recent Features

Sign Up

Sign up to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres!